Minerva: DOD Hearts Anthropologists?
The Washington Post has a good piece today about the Pentagon’s new Minerva initiative. Minerva is an effort to bridge the gap between social science and national security — in this case, doling out grant money to anthropologists willing to work with the military. Unfortunately, that’s a dicey proposition, as The Post recounts:
But the Network of Concerned Anthropologists, which includes professors from American and George Mason universities, said dependence on Pentagon funding could make universities an "instrument rather than a critic of war-making."
In a May 28 letter to federal officials, the American Anthropological Association said that it was of "paramount importance . . . to study the roots of terrorism and other forms of violence" but that its members are "deeply concerned that funding such research through the Pentagon may pose a potential conflict of interest."
Minerva builds off one of the Pentagon’s most innovative programs, well, ever: the Human Terrain System, created by anthropologist Montgomery McFate, which takes anthropologists to Iraq and Afghanistan to create a picture of tribal customs, mores and structures in order to better facilitate counterinsurgency campaigns and inform strategy. (In the interests of full disclosure, I’m currently working out an embed with HTS officials in Afghanistan.) As my friend Lindsay Beyerstein and others have reported, HTS is rather controversial in academia, owing to the concerns that the AAA laid out in its May 28 letter that the Post cites. Yet it’s hard to misunderstand, at the least, the intentions of HTS: to inform national strategy so it kills and offends as few Afghans and Iraqis as possible, to be blunt. Certainly there’ll be problems in its execution, since nothing is perfect, but the problems with the program don’t seem to be more than theoretical, at least as laid out by the anthropologists’ organization.